Max Verstappen takes P4 finish fighting with Mercedes in virtual endurance race

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen in the paddock. France July 2022.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen walks through the paddock on media day. France July 2022.

Max Verstappen was back in action in the simulated motorsport world on Saturday, taking a fourth-place finish in the 500 Miles of Sebring in the Le Mans Virtual Series alongside his Team Redline team-mates.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion took the wheel for the final third of the 134-lap race around a virtual Sebring, with 10-time Formula 1 podium finisher Romain Grosjean also among the racers in the 40-car field, split between virtual LMP and GTE classes.

Verstappen’s #1 Team Redline car started second for the race but dropped a place at the first corner, with the two Porsche Coanda cars holding them at arm’s length throughout proceedings before the Red Bull driver took the wheel for the final stint, with 20 seconds to make up to the leader.

But while he made modest headway in the first part of his run, a slow fuel stop saw him back to square one and almost 25 seconds behind the leader instead, but faced a somewhat familiar foe behind in virtual form, as the #63 Mercedes AMG Petronas Esports car closed up behind him in the closing stages, with James Baldwin, a GT racer named a 2021 British Racing Drivers’ Club Rising Star in the real world, on the charge.

Baldwin closed to within two seconds of the two-time World Champion in the final 10 laps, and Verstappen then had Baldwin right on his tail when he lost over a second fighting through traffic.

And a second dose of traffic proved to be Verstappen’s downfall coming out of the final corner too, holding him up on the exit which gave Baldwin a run going into Turn 1. The Red Bull driver ran wide after braking and the Mercedes Esports driver was through into the podium places, while the Dutchman eventually had to settle for fourth alongside team-mates and sim racers Max Benecke and Jeffrey Rietveld.

Grosjean, by the same ticket, would not get himself into the same contention, however. He came in for the final stint behind the wheel of his #18 R8G Esports car already a lap down on the leaders and in 13th place, making a meaningful fight at the front almost impossible before he and his team-mates eventually came home 15th.

Williams (P5), Alpine (P13) and Red Bull (P5, GTE class) all entered their own sim racing teams into the 500-mile race on Saturday, with the season having also been made up of an eight-hour race around a virtual Bahrain, six hours at Spa and four hours of Monza to date.

This race represented the penultimate round of the 2022 Le Mans Virtual season, which will culminate in January with a full virtual Le Mans 24 Hours – with the likes of Verstappen and fellow sim enthusiast Lando Norris having taken part in the event in previous years.

The total prize pot for the Le Mans Virtual series is $250,000, with double championship points awarded for the 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, which will take place on 14/15 January.

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